In this talk, I will discuss the results of several studies on the acquisition of pronominal clitics of European Portuguese (EP) by Portuguese-German bilingual speakers living in Germany (Rinke & Flores 2014; Flores, Rinke & Azevedo 2017; Rinke, Flores & Barbosa2018). On the basis of these studies, I will show that heritage bilinguals do not have an incomplete grammatical knowledge of the pronominal system of EP, although some differences between monolingual and bilingual speakers can be observed. I will argue that the observed differences are the result of input differences.
Studies focusing on the acquisition of Romance pronominal clitics by bilingual speakers acquiring a Germanic and a Romance language has yielded varying results. On the one hand, cross-linguistic influence has been attested during the acquisition process. Müller & Hulk (2001) attribute higher rates of object omissions in their Romance language French or Italian and to the influence of the Germanic contact language Dutch or German providing evidence for Topic-Drop. On the other hand, Montrul’s (2010) study on Spanish-English bilingual’s knowledge of Spanish clitics shows that, in comparison to other grammatical phenomena, object clitics seem to represent no major problem for heritage speakers even with low proficiency. However, these speakers show more robust knowledge of core aspects of grammar than of aspects related to the syntax–semantics / discourse interface.
The pronominal system of European Portuguese is of special interest in this context because it includes grammatical null object constructions (Raposo 1986) and shows a high degree of complexity and variability. For instance, variability is found with respect to the position of clitics in the sentence, their morphological shape, their realization in dislocation structures and their use in different registers. This variability allows to compare the knowledge of monolingual and bilingual speakers of EP with respect to the following aspects: core grammatical properties of the clitics (enclisis and proclisis), morphology (allomorphy), interface properties (dislocation structures), and different registers (clitic climbing in colloquial vs. formal registers). Given that the pronominal system of German diverges in many respects, the question of cross-linguistic influence can also be addressed. Combining different methodologies and experimental evidence as well as evidence from spontaneous speech corpora, our studies show that EP heritage bilinguals have successfully acquired the core properties of the pronominal system of Portuguese and that differences between monolingual and bilingual speakers can be explained on the basis of differential input conditions.